Wizards Rally to Get Even
Monday, May 1, 2006
In his team's biggest game of the season, Gilbert Arenas was having one of the worst games of his life. His trusty jump shot was clanging off the rim, the driving lanes normally open to him were clogged and the Washington Wizards went into halftime of last night's crucial game against the Cleveland Cavaliers trailing by 11 points.
Looking for a change in performance, Arenas changed his clothes. Off came the sneakers, his jersey and game shorts. He even stripped off the padded undershorts he wears to protect him from hard fouls and even harder falls.
"I had to get out of that first uniform," Arenas said. "That first uniform was bad luck for me."
Properly outfitted, Arenas snapped out of his first-half funk, when he made only 1 of 9 shots, and scored 20 of his team-high 34 points in the fourth quarter as the Wizards evened their best-of-seven series, 2-2, with a 106-96 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 20,173 at Verizon Center.
Game 5 is Wednesday night in Cleveland, where the Wizards and Cavaliers split Games 1 and 2. The series swings back to Verizon Center for Game 6 on Friday night and, if needed, a deciding Game 7 will be in Cleveland on Sunday.
After scoring 41 points and making the winning basket in Cleveland's 97-96 Game 3 victory on Friday night, LeBron James finished with a game-high 38 points on 13-of-22 shooting but walked off the court in frustration after being whistled for two charging fouls in the fourth quarter. James also wound up with seven of his team's 23 turnovers. Those mistakes were turned into 27 Washington points.
"I've been called for more offensive fouls in this series than in all 82 games combined probably," James said. "They're trying to take my aggressiveness away, trying to make me play outside but I still have to be aggressive because that's the kind of player I am."
It was Arenas who was frustrated Friday night after missing a potential game-winning three pointer moments after James made a tough layup over Michael Ruffin. Arenas vowed to come back with a stronger performance last night. He did, but he also received plenty of help.
Forward Antawn Jamison snapped out of a three-game shooting funk to score a series-high 22 points on 8-of-18 shooting with 10 of those points coming during the first quarter, when James was trying to single-handedly blow the Wizards out of the building.
James, who made five three-pointers in the first three games, had that many in the first half last night. James made six of his first seven shots, including four three-pointers and a long two-pointer, and scored 18 of Cleveland's 27 first-quarter points.
The Cavaliers shot 55.9 percent in the first half as James set a franchise record with 25 first-half points. Cleveland's 57-46 lead stretched to 13 points early in the third period on a layup by former Wizard Larry Hughes (seven points, six fouls) but the Wizards came back behind Arenas and Butler.
Those two combined to score 17 of Washington's 26 third-period points. Butler banked in a jumper from eight feet, drawing the Wizards within six, and Arenas finished the quarter with a three-pointer and a pair of free throws as the Wizards went into the fourth tied 72-72.
Arenas and Jamison opened the final period with consecutive three-pointers and the lead stretched to a game-high 10 points when Arenas drove and made a layup while drawing a foul on Donyell Marshall at the 6-minute 14-second mark.
James made his seventh and final three-point shot to draw Cleveland within eight with 3:10 to play, but he was called for charging into Jared Jeffries on the next possession. Butler hit a turnaround jumper to push the lead back to 10 and the Wizards held on over the final two minutes for the victory.
"With this team, we have to actually beat them," said Arenas, who made 8 of 20 field goal attempts and 14 of 17 free throws. "It can't be a decision. It can't be up to the referees. We have to beat them."
The Wizards didn't need to be told how important last night's game was. Of the 160 teams that have fallen behind 3-1 in a best-of-seven series, only seven have come back to win the series.
"A lot of people were talking like we were just going to fall apart and lose this series because of what happened" Friday night, said Butler. "But that's not what this team is about. We're not going out like that."